Katherine Keberlein, Mike Nussbaum, Eric Slater, Guy Massey and Catherine Combs/Photo: Liz Lauren
I kept thinking about the story of my parents’ oft-discussed first meeting—at a dance hall in Fargo, North Dakota sometime at the dawn of the JFK era—as I watched one of the best plays of the year, Noah Haidle’s “Smokefall,” in its world premiere at the Goodman earlier this week. And how, if not for a thousand factors of chance, that meeting had not occurred, or had not gone well, and my world, the world of my wife and children, of my brothers and their families—the life that is everything to me and nothing of consequence to most others—does not exist.
An existential scream baked inside a birthday cake, “Smokefall” forces contemplation of the nature of domestic life, and the meaning of life, through a production that commences with a surreal-tinted realism (telegraphed before the curtain by Kevin Depinet’s slightly off-kilter wonder of a set) and progresses through a slightly too-long shtick-driven duo of fraternal twins inside the womb with a predilection for singing Sondheim and into a second act where time, space and generations overlap and blend together. Read the rest of this entry »
Larry Marshall, Tosin Morohunfola and Cleavant Derricks/Photo: Liz Lauren
Director Chuck Smith has taken Cheryl L West’s play about three generations of African-American porters working on a luxury Pullman train bound from Chicago to New Orleans on June 22, 1937—the night that Joe Louis knocked out James Braddock at Comiskey Park and became heavyweight champion of the world and hero to Black America—and crafted an engaging entertainment with a little bit of history, a fair bit of bite, a dose of predictability and a ton of heart and soul.
Grandfather Monroe Sykes (the delightful Larry Marshall) has helped grandson Cephas (the earnest Tosin Morohunfola)—AWOL from his classes at the University of Chicago, where he was the family hope to become a doctor—get a summer porter gig on the Panama Limited Pullman Train, not knowing that his son and the boy’s father, Sylvester Sykes (the loving and lovable firebrand Cleavant Derricks), a labor organizer, would also work that run. West’s script draws sharply contrasted characters here—the go-along-to-get-along grandfather not far enough removed from slavery to want to rustle feathers, the son who’s no longer willing to suffer the abuse of a system of institutional and economic racism, and the grandson who’s enjoying the fruits of his forebears labors, but is too young to know whether he’s prepared to buy into their plan for him. Their story together is a moving and authentic intergenerational tale that will connect with audiences of any time and any color. When they sing together in harmony, their moving music says everything about the unity of family even in the face of personal differences. Read the rest of this entry »
A suicide is always a tragedy. And in the hands of various interest groups and media outlets, as agendas are pushed and stories are filtered or distorted, a tragedy can become a travesty.
Inspired by and roughly based on the 2010 suicide of Tyler Clementi, playwright and Pulitzer finalist Christopher Shinn’s latest work, currently receiving its world premiere at the Goodman Theatre, tackles this heavy subject matter with a solid dose of unexpected comedy while attempting (and mostly succeeding) at remaining above polemics and finger-pointing.
Though a few of Shinn’s points feel obvious, under the direction of Evan Cabnet, most are subtle and poignant. Most notably, as the eponymous freshman student Teddy Ferrara, Ryan Heindl arrives on stage socially awkward enough so that when he mutters the line, “yeah, my roommate is kind of weird” it gets a hearty laugh. But this easy laughter at a social misfit should give us pause later as Teddy’s story unfolds further.
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Larry Yando/Photo: Liz Lauren
Thirty-five years ago, Goodman Theatre debuted its first production of Charles Dickens’ holiday classic at the suggestion of now-executive director Roche Schulfer, and changed the face of Chicago theater for good. Though that first production was an expensive and risky undertaking, its success became the bedrock for the audience-driven component of financing Chicago theater, as not only did Goodman put it into perpetual repeat, but so too did almost every theater company in town develop their own annual holiday production as a box-office sure thing.
Though those of us who, for personal or professional reasons, see the show many times over might be inclined to obsess over what ultimately minor shifts in staging and casting invariably take place over time, the reality is that Goodman has this one down to a science, especially under the helm of stalwart director Steve Scott. And especially with Larry Yando playing Ebenezer Scrooge, a role that recalls his even-less-redemptive turn as that other theatrical rogue, Roy Cohn, in last year’s production of “Angels in America” at Court. Yando’s mastery of vile is unparalleled, but so too is his transformation into the joyfully benevolent Scrooge here, where he gets to show some chops for physical comedy. Read the rest of this entry »
Dael Orlandersmith/Photo: Kevin Berne
The pressures of masculinity require that its terrors go unspoken; young men and boys often negotiate violent worlds without help or outlet. Solo writer/performer Dael Orlandersmith tells their untold stories with a truthful, unblinking eye. Her stories pack a powerful punch.
It’s a harsh landscape, a planet populated by characters desperate to keep their heads above water. There’s Mike, the child of a prostitute trying to rise above his roots through education; Flaco, whose mentally ill mother sexually abuses him and Ian, a child of a working-class British yob, who struggles with his own violent tendencies. Orlandersmith switches seamlessly between five bleak realities to build to a hopeful climax. Read the rest of this entry »
Diane Lane and Finn Wittrock/Photo: Liz Lauren
Having directed a brilliant revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Writers’ Theatre a few seasons back—which has also since played the Williamstown Theatre Festival—it was a natural for David Cromer to return to Tennessee Williams. With all the resources of the Goodman Theatre at his disposal, and back in his hometown after successes in New York and Los Angeles as well as a 2010 MacArthur “Genius” grant, Cromer has turned to Williams’ last real success, “Sweet Bird of Youth.” Although Cromer was originally slated to direct the play last year on Broadway, New York’s delay is Chicago’s gain.
Characteristics that have become Cromer hallmarks, including creating a larger-than-life scenic environment (courtesy of James Schuette) are obvious from the moment you enter the theater, as the soft winds of the Deep South are heard and felt and a translucent white curtain gradually reveals an elegant baby-blue-and-white hotel room. A shirtless, at first rather boyish-looking man (Finn Wittrock as Chance Wayne) is lounging in bed and rises to reveal he is wearing solid-white silk pajama bottoms. Soon we discover that hidden amongst his pink sheets is a beautiful female companion in black lingerie (Diane Lane as the Princess Kosmonopolis). As the dark world of this couple is revealed, insidious insight by insight, the juxtaposition of their apparent attractiveness forms an ironic and humorous paradox with what unabashedly despicable people they are. In a brilliant touch, the curtain and wall at times show faint projections of dreamlike images of the past, including our first look at a youthful Heavenly (Kristina Johnson). Read the rest of this entry »
J. Nicole Brooks and Phillip James Brannon/Photo: Michael Brosilow
What starts as a rather sitcomy family comedy/drama (complete with John Iacovelli’s appropriately upper-middle class interiors and Ana Kuzmanic’s contemporary costumes) quickly transforms into a much deeper exploration of family, belonging and acceptance. Playwright Paul Oakley Stovall has created a script that is not only relevant to the current political climate but also incredibly entertaining. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Liz Lauren
When it was first announced that Nathan Lane would be taking on the lead role of Hickey in “The Iceman Cometh” at Goodman Theatre, a New York Times reader wondered aloud if this was for real, or an Onion article. Could one of the great song-and-dance men in musical comedy successfully transfer that prowess to epic, angst-ridden drama? Performing comedy has always been serious business and this was a part that Lane lobbied for when he learned that his colleague and friend Brian Dennehy—who played the role of Hickey at Goodman twenty-two years ago—was interested in taking on the role of Larry in the show. Never having worked together, Lane saw this as an opportunity to take on a new challenge with the additional incentive of working with Dennehy’s longtime Eugene O’Neill collaborator, Goodman artistic director Robert Falls.
The play starts in darkness with only the slightest bit of light showing on Dennehy’s granite face and his other booze-soaked companions sprawled out at a bar. All is usual, at least in an O’Neill universe, as we learn of their various squashed pipe-dreams, those delusional hopes of the hopeless that keep them going but which have no basis in reality. Read the rest of this entry »
Carolyn Ann Hoerdemann/Photo: Liz Lauren
That Barcelona-based Calixto Bieito, the notorious and gloriously radical revisionist director of opera and theater, polarizes audiences is undeniable; it’s not clear that even advance warning will prepare certain minds from displeasure with his first American production, a re-imagination of Tennessee Williams’ “Camino Real” at the Goodman Theatre. At an opening in Goodman’s sister theater a week earlier, I overheard chatter among the snack-bar staff and the ushers, murmuring about unhappy audiences in the other theater. That same day the New York Times profiled the production, writing of an orgy (which turns out to be more bacchanalian euphoria than Penthousian porno) and, well, expectations for mayhem were properly raised for its official debut. So what happened? Read the rest of this entry »
Zainab Jah, LeRoy McClain and Pascale Armand/Photo: T Charles Erickson
There is something decidedly conventional in the structure of playwright Danai Gurira’s “The Convert,” now in a three-way world-premiere production at the Goodman, the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton and Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles. The historical drama, set in Southern Africa during the early days of Victorian British colonialism in what became Rhodesia and later Zimbabwe, centers around a devout Christian catechist and his cultivation of a “savage” into a highly effective protégé, sounds very much like something we’ve all seen before. And its three-act structure and three-hour-fifteen-minute running time are most definitively retrograde in an era of one-act eighty-minute shows. But something more is at work here. Especially novel for the audience of overwhelmingly white and white-haired patrons at the Goodman, I suspect, is the depiction of this world without any Brits (i.e. white characters): No colonialist with a heart of gold, for example, who perceives the true nobility of the savages she’s been sent to simultaneously save and subjugate. Read the rest of this entry »